Containers at Danish mink farms are overflowing with dead animals

Containers at Danish mink farms are overflowing with dead animals

Danish scientists say their potential Covid-19 vaccine is effective against the mutated mink strain… as containers at fur farms overflow with animals killed in cull

  • The cull of 17million mink continues in Denmark amid fears of new Covid strain
  • Containers have been filled to the brim with the dead animals to stop the spread
  • Danish scientists say early trials against the mutation have proved effective 
  • Dr Fauci says other Covid vaccines should cope with the new virus strain 

Containers at Danish farms are overflowing with mink as the cull of millions of the animals continues over fears they are spreading a new strain of Covid.

So far, more than 200 people have been infected with the mutated coronavirus which originated in Denmark, and authorities are desperately trying to dispose of the potentially dangerous animals. 

Images show the mink being dumped on the ground near the containers which have been filled to the brim with the dead animals. 

Containers at Danish farms are overflowing with mink as the cull of millions of the animals continues amid fears they are spreading a new strain of Covid

Images show the mink being dumped on the ground near the containers which have been filled to the brim with the dead animals

The genetic change is in the spike protein of the virus which is a key target for vaccines, according to Danish scientists

It comes as a potential vaccine has proven effective in early animal trials against the mutated strain of Covid from mink, Danish students have revealed.   

Early studies of the mutated virus strain, known as Cluster 5, showed the virus to have a reduced sensitivity towards antibodies, possibly compromising the efficacy of future vaccines, authorities said last week.

But antibodies from rabbits treated with an early-stage vaccine candidate from Denmark’s State Serum Institute (SSI) successfully beat down the Cluster 5 variant, according to Anders Fomsgaard, leading scientist at SSI, which deals with infectious diseases.

‘We couldn’t resist testing the rabbit antibodies we have against Cluster 5, and it works,’ Fomsgaard told Danish broadcaster DR on Thursday.

So far, more than 200 people have been infected with the mutated coronavirus which originated in Denmark

A potential vaccine has proven effective in early animal trials against the mutated strain of Covid from mink

The vaccine candidate, which is in early stages of development, will soon move to human trials at which it is uncertain if it will have the same effect.

‘Whether this also applies to other vaccines and whether it applies to human antibodies, we do not know,’ Fomsgaard said.

Reuters was unable to reach Fomsgaard for comment.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a risk assessment on Thursday there is ‘currently high uncertainty’ about the potential threat posed by the spread of the virus into mink, its mutations, and its consequent spread back into people.

Dr Anthony Fauci said the new strain does not look like it will currently stop Covid-19 vaccines from working

Early studies of the mutated virus strain, known as Cluster 5, showed the virus to have a reduced sensitivity towards antibodies

Meanwhile, Dr Anthony Fauci said the new strain does not look like it will currently stop other Covid-19 vaccines from working.

The top US government scientist said the issue needs to be taken seriously but indications at the moment were that the mutations would not derail plans for mass vaccination.

Authorities feared the new mutations could undermine the effective of the vaccines.   

The mink vaccine candidate, which is in early stages of development, will soon move to human trials at which it is uncertain if it will have the same effect

The genetic change is in the spike protein of the virus which is a key target for vaccines, according to Danish scientists.

In a Chatham House briefing, Dr Fauci said: ‘Whenever you see something like that you need to pay attention to it. You certainly can’t just blow it off.

‘You have got to look at it, you have got to take a look at what it means, what the mutation has to do with various aspects of the molecules that are responsible for the binding of antibodies.

‘We took a first look, the group here in our vaccine research centre, who takes this very seriously, and (they say) that when you look at the binding sites…

On the farms mink are crammed into squalid, tight conditions. This raises the risk of one catching a virus and then transmitting it to others nearby

‘It does not appear at this point that the mutation that has been identified in the minks is going to have an impact on vaccines and the effect of vaccine-induced immune response.

‘It might have an impact on a certain (number) of the monoclonal antibodies that are developed against the virus – we don’t know that yet.

‘But at first cut it doesn’t look like something that’s going to be a really big problem for the vaccines that are currently being used to induce an immune response.’

The top US government scientist said the issue needs to be taken seriously but indications at the moment were that the mutations would not derail plans for mass vaccination

WHAT IS THE NEW COVID-19 STRAIN AND SHOULD YOU BE WORRIED? 

What is going on in Denmark?

The coronavirus which originated in China and is currently racing through the world’s population was passed from humans to mink. 

When it entered the mink population the virus was forced to mutate to multiply inside its new host and spread among the animals, creating a new strain.

At some point this new variant was then passed back to humans.

Should we be worried?

So far experts believe the new strain – known as Cluster 5 – is not more infectious or deadly than previous versions.

But there is a concern that it is less sensitive to antibodies – substances produced by the immune system to fight off infections.

Vaccines work by training the body to be able to unleash a wave of antibodies when the virus tries to infect people. 

This has raised concerns that it might render any future Covid-19 vaccine less effective if it were to spread.

Danish specialists have warned it could theoretically start a new pandemic. 

How did it happen?

All viruses naturally mutate as they spread.  

The sole purpose of the virus is to replicate as many times as possible, and many pathogens evolve over time in order to become more infectious — which often makes them less deadly so they can survive for longer and be spread to more people.

It is believed SARS-CoV-2 originated in bats before jumping to humans in China, possibly via an intermediary species such as a pangolin. 

Mink in Denmark are believed to have caught the virus from infected workers at fur farms.

The virus then mutated in the minks before ‘spilling back’ to reinfect humans. 

Are there any mink in the UK? 

The risk of something similar happening in the UK is low because fur farming has been banned here since 2002. 

There are populations of wild mink in the UK after they were shipped over from America for fur farming decades ago.

But people rarely come into close contact with wild mink, meaning the threat of Covid-19 transmission is low.

His comments come as Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, told a separate briefing the reason the mink mutation was worrying was because it showed the virus was ‘promiscuous’.

He said: ‘The reason why this is so worrying is it shows how promiscuous this virus is and that it is very able to leap from certainly bats and then probably some intermediate host in China at some point in 2019 and come across (to) the humans.

‘And what the minks demonstrate to us and reminds us of – is that it can go back the other way.

‘It can then become an endemic animal virus as well and minks are … essentially the canary in the coal mine for this.

‘They’re telling us that this virus can jump back and forth between humans and animals.’

He said the virus could easily get established in other animal populations such as rats, mice, ferrets and voles.

It could then ‘come back in future years into the human population as a revolving door in a way’, he said.

‘That’s the worry of the mink story, rather than the minks themselves.’

Sir Jeremy said he thought ‘epidemics are the horrible poster child of the things we’re going to face in the 21st century.’

The drivers of epidemics including changes in animal and human behaviour, trade and travel and climate change, meant that issues such as epidemics and drug resistance were ‘not going to be national’, he said.

He said countries over the last five to 10 years were ‘locked in to what I describe as the abyss of nationalism’ but Covid had shown the need for international cooperation and collaboration.

‘Humanity has looked at itself and said we have to work together as a world and I think the scientists around the world have actually driven that through Covid – they’ve worked, they’ve collaborated, they’ve shared their information and I think that is to be applauded and and shows us a way through,’ he said.

Asked if he agreed with Professor Sir John Bell from Oxford University that things could return to normal by spring, Sir Jeremy replied: ‘John’s Canadian I think originally.

‘Spring can last a long time in Canada, and, you know, it’s good of John to have not become too fixed on an absolute date.’

But he added: ‘I do think we’re at a fork in the road.

‘I’ve said since January that the way through this pandemic is ultimately going to be through science and innovation.’

Sir Jeremy said news that Pfizer’s Covid vaccine can protect people from getting ill was ‘a huge finding – it’s not just abstract immunology, this is protecting people.’

He added: ‘ I think we’ll look back on the advances made in 2020 and say that was a moment when science really did make a leap forward.’

But Sir Jeremy said he still believes the current coronavirus ‘is now part of humanity, it is an endemic infection now, and I don’t think it’s going to go away’.

He added: ‘But I’m damned glad that we will have drugs and vaccines and diagnostics to help us through that, as with every other infection.’

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